When driving along the southern shore of Lake Issy Kul it is impossible not to notice a grand structure, the yurts and walls covered in fading murals. This once colourful place is Aalam Ordo, which literally translated to “the centre of the universe”. A lot of questions immediately arise. What did this complex, that is now slowly taken back by nature, used to be? Who build it? Why was it abandoned? And, of course, can I have a closer look? We did not hesitate to stop and walk around the area to maybe find some answers.
A Centre for Spirituality and Knowledge
We found out that the construction of Aalam Ordo, a centre for culture, science and spirituality, started in 2009. Tashkul Kereksizov initiated the project to establish a place dedicated to learning, knowledge creation and creativity, and former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev supported the project. At this place young Kyrgyz people would have been able to live, study, and exchange with elders. The idea was to create ideas and learn without being tied to formats such as lectures or a fixed curriculum. Instead, inspiration should come from spiritual stimulation, and exchange among the participants in the project without traditional hierarchies (which you often find in universities) limiting the students. In this way, a new Kyrgyz generation should develop, and the ideas and inventions created here were supposed to travel the world and bring fame back to Kyrgyzstan.
However, this never became a reality. In 2010, the president had to leave office in the Second Kyrgyz revolution, and his successor did not believe in the projects. That is why, despite being almost finished, Aalam Ordo was never used as a cultural and spiritual centre as it was intended.
The murals of Aalam Ordo
Despite being abandoned for quite a while now, the structure is still impressive. The walls are covered with murals which depict Kyrgyz traditions like hunting and falconry, dancing and other arts, or agriculture. The colours are still vivid. I especially liked a picture of a dancing ballerina wearing a blue dress in a golden frame. She is overlooking Issyk Kul lake and on a sunny day, the blue water and blue sky perfectly match her dress. She looks fragile and strong at the same time, and the decayed surrounding creates a melancholic yet wonderful atmosphere. Not all murals are that well preserved. However, there is still a lot of art to discover.
Coming back to life
Although the place seems to be abandoned at first sight, you will notice that some of the yurts are inhabited. But you don’t have to be afraid to enter the area. The people are friendly and if you greet them and behave respectfully to the place and the people there, they won’t mind you being there.
The lake shore, and especially the never used jetty, are a popular spot for locals to hang out, have a barbecue, and swim in the lake. However, it is still a tranquil place with a very special atmosphere. As nature is slowly taking back the complex, no one knows for how long it will be still possible to visit the place though.
Tip: If you want to visit, but find the main gate locked, you can easily enter the area from one of the side entrances. You need to be a little careful as the structures are falling apart, so bring good shoes, water, and watch out for rubber on the ground.